The West Coast Conference announced on Monday, March 26th that the men’s basketball conference schedule will be reduced from 18 to 16 games, and the top four teams in the conference will receive double-byes into the semifinals of the West Coast Conference Tournament.
Under the new system, teams will play home-and-homes against seven opponents and either home or away games against the two other opponents.
For the conference Tournament, the first round will still consist of the #7 vs. 10 and #8 vs. 9 matchups, but the second round will only feature the winners of those games facing the #5 and #6 seeds instead of four quarterfinal games. The third round will see the 3 and 4 seeds play, while the top 2 seeds will get byes until the semifinals. These changes were made to help the top teams in the league improve their resume for the postseason.
The scheduling component of the Men’s Basketball Enhancement Plan was first discussed as a group in June 2017, when ESPN bracket expert Joe Lunardi met with the West Coast Conference head coaches and athletic directors. The group met about how to best work within the current RPI system to maximize opportunities to get the most NCAA tournament teams with the best possible seeds.
By making these changes for the WCC Tournament, Gonzaga, BYU, and Saint Mary’s will get to avoid playing a sub-200 RPI team in the conference tournament that can only hurt their chances of making the NCAA Tournament but not help them.
While two conference games are being eliminated from the schedule, the WCC’s emphasis on RPI and NCAA Tournament selection suggests that Gonzaga, BYU, and Saint Mary’s will still be play each other twice in the regular season every single year.
The two additional non-conference games that will now be available present an opportunity for these schools to replace conference games against mediocre teams with marquee opponents, though those games may not be easy to schedule. With conferences such as the Big Ten and the ACC moving from 18 to 20 conference games, there might not be a long list of teams willing to play a team such as Gonzaga or BYU in the non-conference.
Additionally, Saint Mary’s has been notorious for scheduling very poorly in the non-conference, rarely leaving the state of California to play a game. There is no guarantee that they will use this opportunity to schedule better opponents in November and December.
This change is notable for the West Coast Conference because it might convince Gonzaga to stay in the league instead of bolting for the Mountain West Conference. From BYU’s perspective, any action that could potentially keep Gonzaga in the WCC is one worth taking, as the prospect of the conference without the Zags may cause Cougar fans to question what exactly they are still doing in this league.